Rolling Thunder Comes To Asheville, May 3

National radio commentator Jim Hightower, Gesundheit! Institute founder Patch Adams, grassroots activist Granny D, and Afro-Celtic singer Laura Love headline the Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour to be held at the Asheville Civic Center on Saturday, May 3.

“For too long progressives have walked fearful of their shadows, whimpering and whining about what’s wrong and fighting amongst themselves over crumbs. That time is over,” said Hightower in a quote from the Rolling Thunder website.

Hightower is a progressive populist who, “believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left but top to bottom.” The former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, who is presently a newspaper columnist and national radio commentator, launched the Rolling Thunder Tour last spring from Austin, Texas. Asheville is the first stop on the 2003 tour.

Hightower chose the name “Rolling Thunder” for its reference to “the prelude to the rain that wets the grassroots and makes them grow.” So, what is the Rolling Thunder Democracy Tour? According to their website (, “It’s a county fair with guts. A revival with a reason. A concert with consciousness. A festival with funk and function.” The day-long festival, May 3, at the Asheville Civic Center, features music, films, workshops, presentations and discussions aimed at boosting grassroots activism in western North Carolina.

“Rolling Thunder’s stop in Asheville affirms the richness and diversity of grassroots activism here in the mountains,” said Wally Bowen, one of several dozen local organizers. “From the early days of the rural cooperatives to the current citizens’ alliance for clean air, the mountain region has long been blessed with a wealth of citizens willing to join a good cause.”

This year’s tour features Doris Haddock, a.k.a. Granny D. Most American’s were introduced to the 93-year old activist when she walked 3,200 miles across America in 1999 calling attention to how big money corrupts the U.S. political system. Stopping only for catnaps and food, she walked around the U.S. Capitol Building for seven days in 2001 during the debate over the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill.

“Aren’t we privileged to live in a time when everything is at stake, and when our efforts make a difference,” she said to supporters in a recent birthday speech.

Rolling Thunder honors an American tradition of grassroots activism and populist reform. In the wake of Enron and other corporate scandals, organizers say Rolling Thunder is responding to an era of excess and corruption. “The populist reaction to the Robber Baron-era of the late 19th century led to reforms such as the direct election of the U.S. Senate and women’s right to vote,” said Bowen. “Likewise, populist reaction to the corporate excess of the Roaring ’20s led to a host of New Deal reforms, such as the minimum wage, Social Security, and pure food and drug laws,” he added.

As the tax burden shifts more onto the middle class and working families, Bowen says the time is perfect for creating grassroots pressure for populist-led reform. He added that the ability of corporate lobbyists to block reforms in health care, alternative energy and clean air is creating these pressures that can be harnessed for new politics of populist-led reform.

“It’s important to remember that previous populist reform movements crossed party lines,” said Bowen. “For example, progressive leaders such as Teddy Roosevelt and Robert LaFollete were both Republicans.”

Admission to Rolling Thunder-Asheville is $12. Tickets are available at the Asheville Civic Center box office, the Grove Corner Market, Malaprops Bookstore, Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) and from other participating organizations. Tickets can also be purchased from TicketMaster by calling 251-5505.